TLDR; Summary

Someone recently filled out a form on my website with a simple question: If you ever need Negative SEO or a de-rank strategy, you can hire us.

Obviously, this was a spam message, but I immediately thought, “Why would anyone ever want to de-rank their website?” So I clicked on the link to learn more.

This is what the landing page said: Do you have competitors that don`t play fair in terms of SEO? Then why should you? Hire us and we`ll do a negative SEO campaign and destroy your competition by building the worse possible backlinks towards their sites and keywords.

Yikes! Was this for real? Apparently it was. They promised that they would create 10 Million backlinks, 200k comments and 1000 toxic and malicious links. Their call to action was “Deindex competitors from Google. It works with any Website, video, blog, product or service. Negative SE0 is a ruthless tactic that is not for faint hearted search engine optimizer, do you have what it takes to de-rank your competitors and prosper in SERP glory?”

I had to investigate further. We know that Google deals harsh penalties for websites that use black hat SEO techniques, so what if a malicious party (say, your closest competitor) starts using those techniques on your site just to try and get you penalized? This is known as Negative SEO.

But is negative SEO are real threat for website owners?

It turns out, it is!

Is Negative SEO illegal? Negative SEO is not illegal, but is highly unethical and something that Google simply will not tolerate. It is therefore best practice for webmasters to safeguard their website against negative SEO attacks in order to prevent unwarranted penalties being imposed upon them. It is much easier to prevent it than to fix it.

If this is a potential problem, how do you identify negative SEO and how do you prevent it? The answer iscomplex and consists of multiple factors including:

  • Building spam links
  • Hacking the site
  • Fake traffic spam
  • Duplicate content spam
  • Fake removal requests
  • Slowing down a site
  • Tarnishing a site’s reputation
  • “snitch SEO”

Negative SEO in a nutshell

Building Spam Links

Normally, in-bound links are a good sign that your website is doing well. But if you have a lot coming from the same sites, it can indicate that you are trying to manipulate search results. Link farms are a series of web pages created for the sole purpose of linking to another page on the web. In a Negative SEO attack, malicious parties will create obvious link farms and heavily link to the target website using spammy anchor text. They may also make you look like a spammer by posting comments on other blogs. The result is that this can get you penalized by Google.

Duplicate Content

Duplicate content can be created by scraping a website’s content and creating duplicates of the website, then spreading this across the internet. When this happens, Google will again penalize the site.

Negative Review Spam

Posting fake negative reviews about a website can harm its reputation, leading to traffic drops. Fake reviews are illeagal, but that doesn’t stop the black hats trying to destroy your reputation.

Snitch SEO

Snitch SEO is where someone reports potential black hat link building practices to a search engine in the hopes of a penalty being applied to a competitor’s website.  Another method used by the black hats is to get backlinks removed by sending out fake Removal Requests to webmasters.

Slowing down a site

There are various methods that can be used to make a website slower. This includes excessive crawling and excessive UGC (user-generated content) submission.

Hacking the site

Hacking a competitor’s website is illegal and is one of the most harmful forms of negative SEO. Google removes sites with malware from search entirely, greatly damaging a site’s incoming traffic. After fixing the hack and restoring the site, it’s common to see long-term effects in the form of reduced search performance.

You may still have full access to your website while an attacker has installed various spammy signals that you might not detect. For example, messing with robots.txt or sitemap could hurt your site without you noticing any obvious change for months. The robots.txt file is easily one of the most important files on your site when it comes to SEO because it tells crawlers how to interact with your site. A small change to this file is all it takes to tell Google to completely ignore a website.

A hacker could also modify all your redirect, pointing to pages that don’t exist, or sending them to spam websites.

A 301 redirect is a piece of code that tells search engines and visitors that the page has moved to a new location. This kind of redirect is a legitimate webmaster technique that is used to redirect old domains to new ones. Unfortunately, a 301 redirect can also be used by competitors to sabotage your ranking.

By hacking your site and redirecting your pages to theirs, they can steal both your traffic and your search engine ranking. If you’re dealing with a unscrupulous competitor, they might only redirect some of your older archived pages so that you may not even notice the hijack for quite some time.

While a 301 hijack involves actually hacking your site, a 302 hijack can be accomplished without access to your site. 302 Hijacking is less about permanent Google ranking and more about stealing temporary traffic. A 302 redirect is a piece of code that tells search engines that a page has been temporarily moved, but that it will eventually be moved back to the original location. With a 302 redirect, a competitor’s site will show up in Google and MSN search engine rankings instead of yours.

Are you scared yet?

What can you do?

But what are you supposed to do when someone is generating thousands of toxic backlinks that point to your site? You will need to disavow them with the same process of fixing a manual action from Google.

More importantly, you need to create real quality backlinks for your site. We’ve talked in the past about building links and the positive effect it has on your search rankings. It turns out that building lots of high quality links back to your website are also one of the most effect means of combating negative SEO.

We’ve also talked about the need for securing your website from hackers. As we mentioned earlier in this article, prevention is much easier than fixing the problem afterwards. Make sure your site is secure so hackers can’t get in to your site in the first place.